Solo travel is on the rise, and according to the '20 Adventure Trends to Watch in 2018', over 80% of millennials are now choosing to travel on their own. With a whopping 85.7% of them being female, as stated by Solo Travel Demographics. When asked, female members of the Solo Travel Society on Facebook said that they chose to travel solo for freedom and independence, to challenge themselves, and generally gain confidence. So, the age-old saying of going on a “journey to find yourself” is actually quite relevant here. Statistics aside, these Instagram-worthy holidays aren’t all what they seem, as there lies a more insidious, darker side to travel…
“Solo travel was once seen as brave and risky for female travelers, but a shift of attitude has meant that it is now an adventurous, exciting experience that allows them to feel free with no one else to worry about or please,” – Hostel World.
In an article by The New York Times, co-authors Megan Specia and Tariro Mzezewa highlighted Carla Stefaniak’s harrowing story of her travels to Costa Rica, as an example of the evolving world of female travel. Despite staying in a gated community with a round-the-clock security guard, she was brutally attacked and found a week later, “wrapped in plastic and half-buried in a sloping patch of forest near her Airbnb rental”. This chilling example of the sheer violence female travellers can face on these seemingly ‘perfect’ holidays is something we don’t really talk about in the media. The filtered pictures of bikini selfies on Instagram for example, only promote this idealised image of travel that is completely glamorised. It is about time that we started an honest discussion about the darker, less Instagram-able aspects of travel, and the way the world is accommodating this new influx of solo female travellers.
The number of cases of violence towards women is astounding, and could easily put you off travelling forever. I have heard countless stories from my friends when we were living in Madrid - being followed by men, harassed and belittled. I myself was almost mugged at my very door step. They aren’t ‘freak’ accidents, and form part of a painful reality that women have to face daily. For example, Ms. Stefanik was the third woman to have been murdered in Costa Rica in the space of just three months. This isn’t just a coincidence. Costa Rica even declared gendered violence against women a national problem back in September 2018.
To make matters worse, the media tend to place the blame on the victims, as Dr Lori Goodsell emphasised on twitter: “We tell women what not to do to avoid being attacked instead of telling men not to attack women.” This is especially the case in 2016, when two backpackers in Ecuador were sexually assaulted and killed by two men. It sparked a conversation about a women’s right to travel safely, as many implied that they were ‘asking for it’ by travelling alone.
I feel as though our society has become detached from the uncomfortable reality of travelling, especially the dangers that can arise as a solo female traveller. It has a wider implication of the treatment of women around the world, as Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, stated for the New York Times: “The root cause of this kind of violence against women in communities and in public and private spaces has a lot of do with the underlying gender stereotypes, social norms, entitlement and patriarchy”. However, these prevalent issues are often conveniently missed out on social media posts or the pages of travel magazines, and we only really get to see a rose-tinted view of these glamorous travel destinations. So next time a friend’s Instagram post sparks some holiday envy, try to understand that not everything in life can be seen through the Mayfair filter.